I Get Around

We are a one car family. It works for us right now because we are lucky enough to have the right set-up. Before we moved here, I did countless hours of research to figure out where we would live to minimize our need to drive. Inevitably, it is the expensive part of town. But we do in fact live within a few miles of most everything we frequent. We are a few blocks from two grocery stores (one of which is a Wh*le Foods), and within a one mile radius we have two libraries, a big city park, several playgrounds and an awesome indoor playspace, the city zoo, and several bakeries, restaurants, coffee shops, ice cream shops, etc. It’s awesome, city livin’ at it’s best. But if we were staying for the long haul, could I survive in such an urban environment? Hard to imagine. It works for me because it’s temporary.

During the school year My Man rides his bike to school (15 minutes each way) and I use the car maybe twice a week, and bike or walk the rest of the time.

During the summer, My Man works across the river. An almost 30 minute drive each way, and that is only if he carefully avoids rush hour. One hour of his day in the car. Fuck, man. I know people do this all the time, all over the country, but wow. I’m not even the one doing the driving and I hate it.

Anyway, that leaves me home five days a week with two kids and no car. How do I do it?

I want to tell you about how I do it, and how I love it, but first I want to make sure that you understand I am not hard core. I’m actually pretty lazy. Like I said, we are lucky to be able to live in a part of town where alternative transportation is easy. The farthest I ever ride my bike is about 3 miles round trip. For that short of a distance, you can practically get there faster on a bike, especially considering one way streets. So, don’t think I’m any kind of foot-power saint.

As with everything else, I do it because I love it.

I love riding a bike, so long as there are no hills involved, and New Orleans is accommodatingly dead flat. I love my 7-speed cruiser, which allows me to sit upright like a real human being, instead of craning forward and cinched down like a spring. In the heat, biking is as comfortable as anything else. If you aren’t in a hurry, you can move at a reasonable pace with almost no physical effort at all, plus catch a bit of a breeze. Cars get so crazy hot when they’re parked and the AC always takes at least ten minutes to kick in.

Biking is better this time of year– but come november when it cools off a bit, I’ll break back out the double stroller and happily walk 2-3 miles a day. I love biking, but I adore walking. It has always been my prefferred form of excersize, especially when there are no hills involved. Just a nice, mellow stroll. Ahhh. It’s therapeutic for me, physically, mentally and spiritually.

I want to share this, not to make any drivers out there feel insecure, you know my parenting motto, ‘Whatever it takes, baby!’ but to encourage anyone who lives in an urban area to just give foot power a try. Because the thing is, it feels intimidating, I know. Perhaps even impossible. When just getting out the door with little kids is fucking insanity producing, why complicate things by trying to walk or bike?

Because walking and biking are good for you. And I don’t mean in an abstract or ethical way (though that too), I mean right here and now. After all the frustration of packing up snacks, water, diapers, extra clothes, wallet, phone, keys, fighting clothes onto two naked kids (they’re always naked), finding three matching pairs of shoes, and herding everyone out the door, the straightforward physical exertion of walking or biking is such a release! Walking no doubt saved my sanity during my first crazy year with two.

Of course, this is entirely dependent on your kids. My babies (both) hated cars. As in, screamingly. But were extremely soothed by walking. So, for me, a walk meant some blessed silence, in which I could think my own cohesive thinks. Or just look around at the nice old architecture and peeping-Tom peoples’ yards. The kids usually settle into a sort of coma in the stroller, watching the world go by. Sometimes they have righteous squabbles, don’t get me wrong, with fists flying or legs kicking and I have no doubt that some kids would be downright impossible in such close proximity. But the thing about walking is that it’s lulling, not just for my kids, but I think for people in general. So, if I can just get them past the moment of the fight, they can usually be lulled back into complicity. I do try to remember to always bring snacks, which can redirect just enough to get them over that critical hump. And I pretty much always bring the Ergo carrier, so that if things get really bad, I can take the Babe out for a few minutes until everybody calms down. Then redirect with snacks.

But for the most part, it works shockingly well. They’re used to it because we do it almost every day. And I’m used to it for the same reason. I think that’s a lot of how it works for me. Habit. It’s much easier to just do something, out of habit, than it is to decide whether you feel up to it at that particular moment. That’s why, if you do live in an urban area, and are considering trying to get around more by foot power, I urge you to give it a couple of weeks to take before you decide it’s too hard. Once that old friend ‘habit’ kicks in, your body will just assume you are walking/biking and not debate it.

The other thing that really helps me to get off my ass is necessity. This summer, with My Man using the car, I am forced to use the bike if I want to leave the house. There are plenty of times when I would drive if I had a car in the driveway. But since I don’t, I get my butt in gear and submit to my chosen fate. And I am almost always glad I did.

you too could have a jumble of two bikes, two strollers, and a bike trailer clogging your garage!

Full time parenting is some hard stuff. I have had plenty of phases of driving everywhere I went since becoming a mama. When we first moved here I was 7 1/2 months pregnant, with 2 year old in tow, bowled over by the unbelievable heat. I patently refused to walk more than 4 blocks, and you had to twist my arm to get me to walk that far. I am being quite literal, I wouldn’t walk to the grocery store because it was five blocks. The first time, months later, that I did walk to the grocery store I couldn’t believe how close it was. Driving those 5 pot-holed blocks made it seem much farther. When my mom came to visit in the beginning of October (still damn hot here) and walked with my daughter to the library, a full mile away, I thought she was insane. In my pregnant and then carrying newborn days, I had truly forgotten about walking. Forgotten that it was actually easy, and so pleasant.

I don’t want to inspire any guilt, lord knows, I hesitated to write this post at all for fear of it. But I do want to say that for me, and I suspect many other folks, walking and riding a bike are particular balms on the painful cracks of parenthood. Talk about Mama Rage, and good ways to circumvent it! A mile long walk does wonders for the tangly ball of mama angst (so long as the little people are strapped into a stroller and not yowling about it).

Having just praised strollers up and down, I can’t help but be my own Devil’s advocate and say that although strollers might save mama’s sanity, and there is hardly a worthier goal, they also do create kids who expect to be strollered, rather than walk on their own feet. As well as just kids who expect sit back and watch the world go by, instead of exploring it on their own terms with childlike gusto. If you stroller a lot, you will end up yelling at your kids to stay strapped in and docile instead of trying to engage with the world. Which fucking sucks. I hate myself every time I do it. But there’s lots of things that suck. Not having friends in the immediate neighborhood, and having to plan playdates a mile away to fulfill everyone’s social needs sucks. Not having a big open wood right out the back door where kids can go explore and exercise without much limitation sucks. Living somewhere with avg summer temperatures of 95 fucking degrees for five months of the year and having to create excursions to AC equipped venues because you’re yard is like a blast furnace sucks. So, we do what we can with what we have. Once or twice a week our excursions are to the grocery store, but for the most part, when I strap them into the stroller it’s so that we can get somewhere that’s fun for them.

I’m a homebody. I’d just as soon hang at our house all day, engrossed in my little projects. But I don’t get to plan the agenda these days. I am in fact third in line, after a 4yo who actually agrees with me, and a 1.5yo who overrules us both, loudly. He needs his daily dose of adventure. And so we set out, every day, to satisfy it.

It is hard for me to motivate to leave the house at all, let alone by the power of my own muscles moving. When you’re in the middle of packing and dressing everybody, the car sounds so much easier. But if you can just make the decision to do it, you’re halfway there. Short distance foot power is not as hard as it sounds, and much more rewarding.

I have a friend who once summed it up quite nicely, our particular brand of laziness “I never feel like climbing a mountain. I bribe myself to the top with cheese and crackers. But, man, once I’m up there! I’m always so glad I went.”

Getting over the mental hump of leaving the house on foot is often the hardest part. After that you can just coast, baby. It’s all downhill from there.

Kid-Walks

We walk a lot. Mostly we walk to get from one place to another. Namely, from our house to 1. The grocery store 2. The Parenting Center 3. The park 4. The Children’s Library 5. The bakery for a berry brioche.

I put both kiddlets in my beloved double stroller, and off we go. I walk at a deliciously adult pace, blithely ignoring all but a small fraction of the interesting things we walk through. Often the Toddler asks to walk, and I let her out on the condition that she actually walk, as in keep walking. “We actually need to get to the ______.” I say in my oh-so-important-grown-up-voice. This more or less makes no difference, by the way. If she’s out of the stroller, we’re meandering. But with an impatient mama. Which is annoying to both of us. And then I am constantly looking for an opportunity to get her back into the stroller. Oh wickedness.

So, at least once or twice a week, I try to make sure we take a Kid Walk. This means, I go out the door with nothing in mind. No place to get, no thing to do. She gets to be the leader. I follow and make my best effort to be half as interested in the world as she is. Occasionally, if she’s in a running mood, we might make it around the block. Other times we don’t make it to the end of our street.

I don’t get to say any kind of hurry things until it’s time to turn around. In fact, I try not to say much of anything. For her to truly lead us, I have to keep my trap shut with all the grown-up leading questions I might ask safely inside. Once out the door and on the sidewalk, I try hard not to ask which direction she wants to go, that would imply we need to go a direction. I just wait, and watch.

Lise of In the Purple House has been doing a series on getting outside every day with kids. I have really been enjoying it! She’s got a great way of expressing the wonder kids have for the world. I suspect she finds it easy to play with kids this way, just as My Man does. But for the record, and to encourage any other mamas out there like myself, I will admit to the fact that I don’t. I find it really very difficult to slow down to kid-pace. I get bored. Yes, I will admit it, playing bores me. My mind wants to keep jumping around to Things I Could and Should Be Doing. It fidgets. It plans. It fantisizes. Anything to keep out of the subject at hand, which is to say– the here and now.

All the more reason, right? It’s not just like meditation, it is meditation. If I could do it, that is. If I could really slow down and open my soulself up to the world the way my babes do. But it’s good practice. Maybe someday… though my life only seems to spiral away from that quiet place.

Although I like to think I would have come to the Kid Walks on my own, I must credit a good friend for the idea of an unspoken follow-the-leader game. When the Toddler hit two (err, I mean, Two) and the epic, twice daily, 40 minute screaming sessions commenced like clockwork, I pled for advice of any kind. And my best mama advisor, who thinks in a very ’cause not symptom’ kind of way, recommended doing “even just 15 minutes a day” of imitating the Toddler. Reversing the roles we usually play. Watching her every move, and trying to follow suit. I loved the idea. Made perfect sense to me that her screaming fits had to do with feeling powerless, and therefore anything I could do to help her feel powerful would be great.

But oh! How can it be so hard?!?! I never even came close to fifteen minutes a day. I did however try to infuse my general parenting with a sense of following her lead whenever possible. And the Walks. Somehow I find it a bit easier to follow when we are outside. More to distract my high-needs brain I guess.

And did it help? Who knows. Maybe? Her twice daily fits did fade out after about a month. Now they’re more occasional. But like I said, considering how inconsistently I managed to pull it off, I’m not sure I can credit the following game.

What I know for sure is, she loves it. And I do too, after the sluggish/forceful start, and before the squirrel-brain-boredom, I do get to share a few moments of blissful wonder. Absolutely worth it.

Cautionary Note: Kid Walks involve a lot of NOT walking.

Things You Never Thought You’d Hear Yourself Say: A Stroller Love Story

I’ve had one thing on my mind lately.

Strollers.

It all started back before I had even picked out a man I might want to make babies with. I had loads of opinions about kids, and fantasies about how I would do it aaaaall different. One of the many precepts I never even realized I functioned under was No Stroller.

I’m from a carryin’ family, and I’d make a carryin’ family. It’s not that I thought anything was particularly wrong with strollers, just that they were surely hopelessly annoying, whereas a backpack is easy, and makes you stronger.

Everything was going fine, I had my one year old still packing around in a good quality frame pack, up and down the steep hills of our (previous) Alaskan hometown. I loved carrying her, and she loved looking out at the world from that tiptop height.

Then I got pregnant again.

I kept up with the backpack until I was about five months along. What with thirty pounds on my back, and twenty up front, my back was killing me. I could hardly breath. I finally risked all reputation by salvaging a friend’s old jogging stroller.

It wasn’t all that great, since the Toddler had just learned to walk good, and wanted plenty of practice. I mostly ended up pushing an empty stroller, and trying to hold a wily little hand at the same time.

Then we moved to New Orleans, I eventually popped the Babe, and finally in November the ridiculously brutal heat subsided. I started walking. A lot. I’ve always loved walking. Our Cordova home has lots of National Geographic quality hiking available, which I also love, but almost no flat walk anywhere to be found. Here in New Orleans, it’s heaven for the classic Stroll. Gorgeous old neighborhoods, quiet side streets, nary a hill in sight, and since November anyway, plenty of perfect weather days for a lovely walk.

The Toddler has come around to riding in a stroller, and in fact, once we’ve broken the hellish surface tension of our house, walking together, with her in the stroller, is one of the easiest, most relaxingly pleasant things we do. We walk for two or three miles at least once a week, and probably a mile most other days. And at first of course, I adored carrying (“wearing”) the Babe.

But he’s growd up. To a full 17.5 pounds. He’s one solid chunk o’ baby butter. And while his folds and pudges are great for kissing and munching, carrying them for several hours of every day finally started to get old.

When my MIL** was here months ago, she pestered me about didn’t I want a good double stroller? I can be very stubborn, and if I feel even slightly coerced, or imagine I might be coerced, I go into instant heel digging mode. No, I said. Not at all. I carried the Toddler happily till she was a year and a half old, and even then only stopped because I was pregnant. By the time the Babe was a year and a half, Toddler’ed be three and a half and be perfectly capable of walking on her own two legs. Thank you very much.

(**I ought to note here that I actually get along great with my MIL. We are so much alike in so many ways, and mostly that makes us get along well, because we understand each other. But sometimes, our stubbornnesses butt heads. Particularly on the issues of “stuff” and TV.)

But lately, like the last month or so, I’ve really started to feel his weight. For one thing, I stupidly left our good frame backpack in Cordova, thinking I wouldn’t need it till next year. For another, I had neglected to realize the difference this little factoid makes– I’m still pushing a stroller. I mean, it’s not like I get to be stroller-free when I carry him. Pushing a stroller is kind of annoying (though not as much here in this dead-flat land), but pushing a stroller and hefting 17.5 pounds around on your front (he’s still too little really for the back carry in the Ergo) is very tiring. I also came the realization that the Toddler rides in the stroller not because she’s not capable of walking. She walks perfectly well, and is capable of plenty of speed, if she so desires. But she doesn’t often desire. The world is full of far too many interesting things to keep up any kind of speed. And I doubt that will change in the next year and a half, I hope it doesn’t! That’s what makes kids so special and wonderful to be with. (Though that doesn’t mean I with my long, grown up legs don’t need to get some real excersize! We try to balance both needs.)

So. Boy am I a wordy one! This all comes back to me making the hard won realization that in fact I do want a double stroller. And the way I function is like so: dig my heels in like crazy, and then suddenly run like hell to the other side. When I decided I did indeed want a double stroller I wanted one right now, goddamn it. Two weeks of fruitlessly watching Craigslist had me in a frenzy. I finally made the trek to Toys R Us. But strangely, for a city with the most fucked sidewalks you can imagine, they didn’t have a big wheeled double jogging stroller. Their only doubles were wimpy, and not at all what I wanted.

Back home I went straight to the computer, found the stroller I wanted on joggingstrollers.com, then found one (new) on Ebay for $200 and bought it. Three days later (wow, it really works like that when you live in the contiguous United States!) my new favorite thing arrived on our front porch. And I am in love all over again.

It’s an InSTEP Run Double Jogging Stroller, and I don’t want to make an advertisement for it, but I do have to say that considering that most of the other double joggers cost a full twice as much (or more!), I am impressed with the quality of construction. Maybe it’ll all go kaplooey in a month, but it sure looks durable to me. I wonder what makes the others worth twice as much? Is it just brand names? This one did have a lot fewer bells and whistles (which I prefer myself) but are a few extra pockets and straps really worth $200 extra?

Anyway, I am quite happy with this particular stroller. The wheels take our bomb scene streets beautifully and it rides like a dream. It’s not full of a zillion pockets, but it’s got one huge shelf underneath, plenty big for a giant load of groceries. As far as having a double, I’m elated. I do have to keep reminding myself though to straighten out my mama-hunch posture. It feels so weird to walk upright. Like, I have to use all these different muscles and I can’t breath properly. I’m sure I’ll work it out.

And now, the sun has come back out through last night’s rain clouds, the temperature is rising to perfecto, and it’s time to take a walk!